The seven-week course of animal-assisted therapy at North Manchester General Hospital sees them visiting men with long-term and severe mental health conditions. The idea is that patients begin to bond with the animals, reconnect with living things and open up about their problems.
The therapy programme is run by former mental health nurse Sharon Hall, 54, who found buying a puppy helped her cope with the loss of her own parents.
Now the dog, Moose, a two-year-old King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, is used in her work in the hospital along with Maggie the Jack Russell, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs and a mouse.
“The feedback we’ve had has been quite magical,” Hall said.
“The occupational therapists have told us that some of the men we have on the course never attend any group activities – yet they have come to and really enjoyed these sessions.
“A lot of the session is non-verbal – and people can just sit and spend time with the animals enjoying a quiet bond.
“The two dogs are very popular – but we also find that the rats in particular provoke questions and a lot of curiosity.
“This is the beauty of the work. The connection you get with an animal depends on you. And then that connection builds a bridge to helping start conversations with people. It’s a common bond that breaks down barriers.”
The scheme is one of 35 projects funded by £330,000 in grants from Manchester Health and Care Commissioning, to target people who may find it difficult to get help or needed support for mental wellbeing.
A second project targets female patients at the hospital, struggling with depression, bereavement and psychosis.
Hall set up Noah’s ART (Animal Rescue Therapy) to provide such services to mental health patients.
She added: “A lot of the time the animals can be a real comfort – and the simple physical connection of holding or cuddling an animal can bring profound relaxation even at a time of major mental or emotional anguish.
“When people can enjoy animals, it can be that small ray of light that gives hope for enjoying other things in life too.”